The Korea Times 칼럼

Letter to a Polish Friend (2010년 4월 24일)

divicom 2010. 4. 24. 12:20

Dear Andrzej, how are you doing? There are a thousand possible reasons why people break their long-held silences. For me, it was the scarlet petals of Kaffir lilies. I can't tell you why, but your name just popped into my head as I was gazing upon the flowers in my small garden of pots the other day and I became compelled to write for the first time in 15 years.

Some flowers were in full bloom and others were wilting on the brink of demise. As I peered at the withering petals, the word death crept into my mind and led me to think about two tragedies ― one involving your president and his staff, and the other, the late President Roh Moo-hyun of Korea.

When in bloom, Kaffir lilies brighten their surroundings even at night. After their blossoming, the flower of six petals is reduced to a modest triangle and falls in a dignified manner that few can mimic. That may be the reason why Kaffir lilies are called ``gunja-ran" in Korean. ``Gunja" means a virtuous gentleman of great intelligence and ``ran" means orchid. I have yet to figure out how ``lily" in English has become ``orchid" in Korean or vice versa.

Dear Andrzej, now that the state funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife is over, you may be trying hard to return to so-called normalcy. However, don't hurry, my friend, because a broken heart needs more time to mend than a broken window.

Your latest tragedy reminds me of a great loss we Koreans suffered back in October 1983. It was the bombing at Martyr's Mausoleum in the capital of what is now Myanmar, which killed 21 high-profile Koreans and wounded 46 others. The incident was reported to have been an assassination attempt of the then Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. It was foiled and he wasn't harmed as his arrival was delayed due to traffic.

A military general-turned dictator, Chun was not popular at all and the people wouldn't have lamented much if he had been sacrificed. However, the sorrow for the others was deep and lasted for years, because the victims, including foreign minister Lee Bum-suk, were thought to be the ``cream of the crop'' among their contemporaries.

Since your people loved Kaczynski, I am afraid the sorrow will persist and the feeling of loss will linger on after the cause of the fatal air crash is found. When Roh committed suicide on May 23 last year, probably unable to endure the humiliation his successor's government imposed on him, we Koreans were numb with anguish for quite some time. With the first anniversary of his death a month away, people have already begun to prepare memorial events.

I am sorry that most Western leaders were prevented from attending President Kaczynski's funeral. The volcanic ash from Iceland clouded more than the atmosphere. It is relieving, though, to hear that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was there. Since Kaczynski and 95 others died on their way to Russia to commemorate the Katyn massacre, the Russian leader's presence at the funeral was important. I understand your country lost about 22,000 people at the hands of the Russian secret police in the Katyn Forest in April and May of 1940.

Even if the mass killing and the latest crash cost your country a great number of brilliant minds, you still have many outstanding people who are eager to devote themselves to the future of your country. When the people of Poland and Korea go to the polls in June, I hope we will see the best candidates elected and carry on the righteous pursuit that was interrupted by the untimely deaths.

When we first met as a visitor and a guide in Warsaw, I was impressed by you, not by your handsome features but by the love you had for your country. Your patriotism was ardent yet sensible unlike that of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who seems to believe he can rewrite history for Japan's sake. His latest nonsense declares that Korea chose to be colonized by Japan to avoid becoming part of either China or Russia.

Dear Andrzej, our two countries have suffered more than our fair share of misfortunes in our respective histories largely at the hands of aggressive neighbors. I sincerely hope Russia will do whatever is necessary to appease the decades-old rancor among Poles. I also hope to see our neighbor acknowledge what it did to us and people like Ishihara ousted from public service.

If and when we see each other again, I would like to share my Kaffir lilies with you and talk about memorable lives and deaths. We can't determine one's lifespan or how to die, but we can at least choose who to remember. Take care, my friend, until then.



4월 10일 "카틴 숲 학살" 70주년 기념식에 참석하기 위해 러시아로 가던 레흐 카친스키 폴란드 대통령과 공식 대표단 등을 태운 비행기가 러시아 스몰렌스크 공항 부근에서 추락, 탑승객 전원이 사망했습니다. 이 소식을 접하니 1983년 버마의 랑군에서 일어난 폭발 사건으로 사망한 우리나라 정부 요인들이 생각납니다. 사건은 전두환 대통령을 암살하기 위해 북한 요원이 저지른 것이라고 했지만 현장에 늦게 도착한 전 대통령은 무사했습니다. 전 대통령을 지지하는 사람들의 생각은 다르겠지만, 제 생각엔 당시에 사망한 사람이 전 대통령이고 우리 사회에 필요한 인재들이 아니었다면 국민의 슬픔이 그렇게 깊고 크지 않았을 것 같습니다. 폴란드와 우리는 호전적인 이웃을 만나 고초를 겪었다는 공통점이 있습니다. 요즘도 일본으로부터는 식민지배를 정당화하려는 극우주의자들의 발언이 끊임없이 들려옵니다. 최근엔 이시하라 신타로 도쿄도지사가 조선은 청나라나 러시아에 속하는 걸 피하기 위해 일본의 식민지가 되는 길을 택했다고 했습니다. 러시아든 일본이든, 잘못을 저지른 나라들이 진정으로 반성하고 다시는 그런 일을 하지 않겠다고 다짐하는 날이 오긴 올지... 여러모로 비감한 봄입니다. 폴란드도 한국도 6월에 선거를 치릅니다. 폴란드는 새 대통령을 선출하고 한국은 지방자치단체장들과 의원들과 교육감들을 뽑습니다. 나라를 위해, 세계를 위해 누구를 뽑을지 결정하고 투표에 참여해야 합니다.